The New England Patriots' unexpected quarterback dilemma is the big storyline entering Monday night's non-conference clash with the slumping Chicago Bears.
New England's offense finally clicked under back-up QB Bailey Zappe in last week's 38-15 win over the Cleveland Browns, but he is likely to return to the bench with Mac Jones ready to return from a high ankle sprain.
The Patriots' starter has not been able to get on the same page as his receivers as yet in 2022 and there's now more pressure to perform after the rookie's back-to-back wins in relief.
The Bears have lost three straight games and continue to look no more functional on offense than they did when Justin Fields was scrambling for his life down the stretch last year.
Pats head coach Bill Belichick tied Bears legend George Halas for most all-time wins last week, and his team should give him a great chance to pass that mark in front of a primetime audience on Monday night.
|What||Chicago Bears @ New England Patriots|
|Where||Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts|
|When||20:15 ET, Monday, October 24th 2022|
|How to watch||ESPN & stream via fuboTV|
|Odds||CHI Bears +300, NE Patriots -380|
Zappe is coming off the best game of his young career, having gone 24-of-34 for 309 yards with a passing touchdown against the Browns, and a good number of Patriots fans would like to see him remain under center.
In his two career starts, the former Western Kentucky QB has completed 41 of his 55 passes for 497 yards, three touchdowns, and just one interception.
Admittedly, those starts came against two of the least daunting defenses in the NFL - the Browns and the Detroit Lions - but there's also an inescapable feeling that the Patriots players and coaches have greater belief in the back-up.
However, Jones should have enough credit still in the bank as a first-round pick that earned ten wins as a starter in 2021 to ensure he retakes the reins of New England's offense.
It's a good game for the ex-Alabama star to shake off any rust as Chicago match up really badly to the Patriots' strengths in that they can be run on and struggle to get off the field on third downs.
The Bears' defense ranks a lowly 29th in the league against rushing attacks, but have also generated below-average production from their pass rush.
Belichick will probably put the game in the hands of running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who entered Week 7 at position number seven in the NFL's rushing charts with 448 yards and three TDs on 87 carries.
The second-year pro scored twice in last Sunday's win, further proving his potential to be the next Patriots' workhorse, although he will be able to share the workload with the returning veteran Damien Harris this week.
Chicago's defense gave up only 214 total yards and 14 first downs while allowing just 2-of-11 third-down conversions in their 12-7 loss to the Washington Commanders last week.
That was significantly better than the Green Bay Packers did against the same team ten days later, suggesting the unit are not a lost cause yet.
But the Bears' offense remains a mess at times with inconsistency from Fields still part of the problem. The ex-Ohio State star has completed just 54.8 percent of his passes with four touchdown throws and five interceptions.
There has not been much evidence of the game slowing down for him and it is unlikely to be any easier for him when faced by a defensive scheme drawn up by Belichick, who has built his career on confusing quarterbacks, and his staff.
The turnover-prone Fields, who has fumbled seven times this season, will need to be ready for cleverly disguised blitzes that could come from any angle.
The Patriots have accumulated six interceptions and racked up 17 sacks in six games - solid numbers with surely more QB pressures to come against a Bears offensive line have has given up a co-NFL-high 23 sacks through their first six games.
Averaging 170.8 yards per contest, the strength of Chicago's offense is in its own ground game - but they can expect New England to stack the box to bottle up their dynamic duo of David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert, thus daring Fields to pass.
Leading 10-4 in the overall series and having won each of the last four, it's hard to envision anything other than a home win here - even if the Bears have a small rest advantage from having played in a Thursday night game last week.
The greatest value in the markets is probably in taking the Under 40.5 Total at 10/11/-110 given only two of Chicago's four games this season have hit the over number.
With both teams favouring ground attacks, the clock could get chewed up by some long drives that won't always result in TDs.
These two teams rank 28th and 29th in red zone scoring percentage and, although the Over is 3-3 in Patriots games this year, New England has allowed their opponents to score a combined 15 points in the last two weeks.